U.K. Leader Boris Johnson Boasts He Has Shaken Hands With Coronavirus Patients

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has boasted that he has shaken hands with coronavirus patients while speaking about his government's plan on tackling the outbreak.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday about the plan to slow the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the country, Johnson told reporters that he will continue to shake hands with people despite the outbreak of the coronavirus around the world.

Johnson said the public must "make up their own minds" about the greeting, adding that washing hands is "the crucial thing."

"I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands," he said. "People obviously can make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is… our judgement is that washing your hands is the crucial thing."

But around the world, people have stopped shaking hands and kissing in a bid to reduce the spread of the virus.

A video that circulated on social media showed people in China greeting each other by tapping their feet together, a hands-free gesture that has been called the "Wuhan Shake" after the Chinese city where the outbreak originated in December.

It comes after Johnson warned that there could be a "very significant" rise in the number of coronavirus cases in the U.K.

Boris Johnson
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference at 10 Downing Street in London on March 3, 2020 to unveil the government's plan to combat coronavirus. Frank Augstein/AFP via Getty Images

"The most important thing now is that we prepare against a possible very significant expansion of coronavirus in the UK population," he told the BBC on Monday.

Johnson warned that it is "much more likely than not that we will face a challenge in the weeks, months ahead." But he added that the country was "well prepared with a fantastic NHS."

On Tuesday, U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the number of cases in the country had climbed to 51, according to the BBC.

The deadly virus has now sickened more than 91,000 people around the world. The global death toll is now at 3,118, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has surpassed 100. Six people have died, all in Washington state.

A growing list of at least 70 countries have been affected, with Ukraine, Armenia, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg and Iceland among the latest to report a first case.

The World Health Organization has yet to declare the situation as a pandemic, but says the world is "in unchartered territory."

"We are monitoring the situation every moment of every day, and analyzing the data," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom said in a statement on Monday.

"I have said it before and I'll say it again: WHO will not hesitate to describe this as a pandemic if that's what the evidence suggests."

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. as of March 3.

Coronavirus, COVID-19
Spread of the COVID-19 virus across the world as of March 3. Statista